We’re living in a world obsessed with selfies, and of course, the perfect selfies calls for the perfect pair of lips. (Seriously, in 2015, 24 billion selfies were uploaded to Google. (1) Just imagine what that number is today.)
However, there's much more to your lips than just pulling off a fabulous pout. They can provide great insight into your overall general and oral health. Interesting, right? Below, you'll find 5 things your lips say about your health.
1. Cracked Lips
If you constantly struggle with the pain and aggravation of cracked lips, there are several things they may be trying to tell you. Here are some of the most common.
You could be dehydrated. If this is the case, you need to make sure you are drinking 8-12 glasses of water every day.
You may be suffering from a vitamin B or iron deficiency. This is particularly true if the corners of your lips are the most affected. Eating a healthy, balanced diet and/or taking a high-quality vitamin B or iron supplement may be the key to reversing your deficiency.
You could have diabetes. When your blood glucose levels are high, the growth of candida (a yeast) is encouraged around the thin skin at the corners of your mouth, leaving your lips cracked. If you suspect that you may have diabetes, schedule an appointment with your physician now.
You may have a yeast infection. If you wear a retainer or are prone to drooling in your sleep, bacteria may accumulate around the corner of your lips, allowing candida to grow. This can result in a yeast infection that can be treated with an anti-yeast medication prescribed by a doctor.
2. Discolored Lips
Because your blood vessels are visible underneath the thin skin covering them, healthy lips tend to be rosy pink or light red. In some cases, your lips may be discolored because of something simple, such as eating a popsicle. In other cases, it could be a sign of a significant health problem. For example:
Blue/Purple: If your lips take on a bluish tint from time to time, it could be that you are extremely cold on these occasions. If your lips consistently sport a blue or purple hue, it could indicate insufficient levels of oxygen in your blood. Known as cyanosis, this could indicate a wide range of health issues, including heart or lung problems, and should be evaluated by a physician.
Pale: If your lips are unnaturally pale pink, white, or even gray, this may indicate that you have anemia, or low iron levels in your blood. A physician can order blood work to verify this. In the meantime, you may benefit from an iron supplement, as well as eating foods high in iron, such as red meat, legumes, and green, leafy vegetables.
Bright Red: You may notice bright red lips if you are suffering from an allergic reaction. This can also be the case if you have been out in the sun. Just like every other part of your body, your lips can get sunburned. (2) This is why it is so important to select a lip balm that offers protection from the sun.
Brown: The sudden appearance of brown spots on your lips may be a sign that you have some form of skin cancer. You should see a dermatologist immediately.
Black: Although it is very rare for lips to turn completely black, they may develop a flat black or brown spot or multiple spots on either their exterior or interior. This is a condition known as lentigo melanoma (LM) and is often the result of chronic sun exposure, though it can be caused by certain chronic diseases, such as Peutz-Jeghers syndrome. (3)
3. Swollen Lips
If you wake up one morning with lips that resemble Angelina Jolie or Kylie Jenner’s and haven’t been using a lip filler, this could be a sign of several different conditions. It could be something as obvious as an injury suffered the previous day to a potentially deadly allergic reaction, better known as anaphylaxis. (You should be aware that anaphylaxis can occur at any time and requires immediate medical attention.) Other non-threatening causes of swollen lips include:
Allergies: Often accompanied by itching and sneezing, these allergies may be environmental, such as pollen, dust, or mold, as well as caused by medication, an insect sting, or food.
Cheilitis Gluandularis: This rare inflammatory condition only affects the lips. (4) Primarily seen in males, doctors are unsure of the specific cause. Treatment is rarely required, unless it is accompanied by a bacterial infection.
Cheilitis Granulomatosa: Also referred to as Miescher cheilitis, this rare health condition causes your lips to become lumpy and swollen. It is typically treated with corticosteroids and anti-inflammatory medications. (5)
4. Chapped or Scaly and Crusty Lips
At some point in their life, everyone gets chapped lips. The reason may be as simple as living in a cold, dry climate, frequently breathing through your mouth, or excessively licking your dry lips. A good lip balm is likely all you’ll need to get rid of this problem. However, in other situations, your chapped lips may be trying to tell you that there is something wrong with your health. This could include:
Dehydration/Malnourishment: Your lips can quickly become chapped when you are dehydrated or malnourished. This is because your lips don’t contain oil glands.
Enlarged Tonsils/Adenoids or Sleep Apnea: With any of these conditions, you are prone to breathing through your mouth while you sleep. The constant flow of breath across your lips during the night can dehydrate them, leaving them chapped.
Too Much Vitamin A: While vitamin A is crucial your health, too much has been linked to chapped lips. (6) It may be that you are consuming too much vitamin A through your daily diet or the use of supplements. Retinoids are also a source of vitamin A and is often used in acne medication.
Nutrient Deficiency: When it comes to your body’s levels of the B vitamins, zinc, and iron, too little can cause chapped lips.
5. Burning Lips
When your lips feel tingly or as if they are in fire, they are definitely trying to tell you something (unless you just ate something spicy). Surprisingly, it may signal that you are going through menopause. (7) Other possibilities include:
Feelings of Depression and/or Anxiety: Researchers have linked depression and anxiety to burning mouth syndrome (BMS), which is often characterized by burning lips, among other symptoms. (8)
Neuropathy: BMS is also associated with neuropathy, which affects your peripheral nerves.
What are your lips trying to tell you about your health? Taking a look in the mirror to make sure you look the way you want to each morning can also be a chance for a little self-check up.
Whenever possible, keep your lips hydrated and healthy with lip balms and a healthy diet.